Research has yet to confirm a definitive link between diet and psoriasis flare-ups, but some people say that eliminating certain foods and drinks offers relief from symptoms. Either way, it can’t hurt to try — you’ve got nothing to lose but the itch.
Some people with psoriasis are convinced that what they eat affects how their skin looks and feels. This could be true, says Jerry Bagel, MD, a dermatologist with Windsor Dermatology in East Windsor and Hightstown, N.J. It’s just that there is no scientific proof to back it up.
Still, he says, if you find that something you eat or drink aggravates your psoriasis symptoms, it can’t hurt to cut it from your diet.
Your Personal Elimination Psoriasis Diet
Here are eight foods and beverages that get mentioned often by people as possibly causing their psoriasis flare-ups. You might consider cutting them out of your diet one at a time to see if any have an effect on your symptoms:
- Alcohol. “First and foremost, stop drinking,” Bagel says. Here’s why: Alcohol opens the blood vessels in the skin. When your blood vessels are dilated, white blood cells, including the T cells that are believed to be responsible for psoriasis, can sneak into the outer layers of your skin more easily — and you don’t need to be inviting more T cells. “Your psoriasis symptoms may worsen even if you’re a light-to-moderate alcohol user,” warns Chelsea Marie Warren, RD, a dietitian and certified wellness coach in Portland, Ore.
- Junk foods. Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition. Junk foods tend to be high in saturated and trans fats and refined starches and sugars, all of which can promote inflammation. Another reason to avoid junk foods is that that they are high in calories with little nutritional value, and people with psoriasis often have weight problems. “If you have psoriasis, you have an increased risk of heart and vascular diseases,” Bagel says. “Being overweight adds to that risk.”
- Red meat. Red meats contain a polyunsaturated fat called arachidonic acid. “This type of fat can worsen psoriasis symptoms because it can easily be converted into inflammatory compounds,” Warren says. Also include on your foods-to-avoid list: processed meats such as sausage and bacon.
- Dairy products. Like red meat, dairy products contain the natural inflammatory arachidonic acid. “Cow’s milk is one of the biggest culprits,” Bagel says, because it also contains the protein casein, which has been linked to inflammation. Egg yolks, too, are high in arachidonic acid, so consider nixing them from your diet.
- Nightshade plants. Some people report that consuming plants from the “nightshade family” — which includes peppers, white potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes — exacerbates their psoriasis. These vegetables contain solanine, a chemical compound that has been shown to trigger pain in some people. “Certain patients believe that if you avoid these vegetables, you decrease your symptoms,” Bagel says. “I’m not so sure about that, but I’m not opposed to people trying it.”
- Citrus fruits. Sometimes, an allergic reaction can cause psoriasis to flare. Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes, are a common allergen. See if eliminating them from your diet improves your skin. This prohibition includes their derivatives as well, such as lemonade or grapefruit juice.
- Gluten. Gluten is a protein found in some grass-related grains, including rye, wheat, and barley. Researchers in Portugal found that psoriasis symptoms in some people with a gluten sensitivity improved after they avoided gluten in their diets. Studies are ongoing, but the idea of psoriasis patients benefitting from a gluten-free diet is still controversial, Bagel says. Even if it works, he adds, it’s not an easy diet to follow.
- Condiments. Some people with psoriasis find condiments and spices to be their enemy. The ones that seem to cause the most trouble for people with psoriasis are pimento, cinnamon, curry, vinegar, mayo, paprika, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup. They’re on the no-no list because substances in these condiments can increase inflammation.
Although research has yet to confirm a direct link between what you eat and psoriasis flare-ups, you might find that your condition improves when you avoid one or more of these foods. Be sure to share what you discover with your doctor so you don’t miss out on any important nutrients.